The day after Thanksgiving – and if I were the type that has a big ‘head’ – on the ‘day after’ – I’d have a big head. We really had a party, a good meal, and a good time. When I finished writing to you yesterday, it was about 1430. Having nothing much to do then, I wandered over to Headquarters battery office and found a couple of other officers sitting around. Almost from nowhere, dear, a bottle of Scotch appeared and knowing that the Colonel would not object on a Holiday afternoon – we got going on that. And then it started to come. Each new officer that appeared – after our calling him on the phone, had to bring a bottle of something, half-full, full – in other words, whatever he happened to have. Well darling, the collection included the following: Scotch, Cognac, Armagnac (stronger than Cognac), Champagne, Rhine River Wine, Cointreau, Eau de Vie (which is so strong that we use it for lighter fluid), and Benedictine. I can’t guarantee the order in which they appeared, but I can assure you – everything was consumed just as soon as it appeared. Of course – we ended up with about ten officers, including the Colonel whom we called at about 1600. By this time we were singing all the old songs, trying to harmonize and not succeeding. At 1700 we went over to eat. The enclosed Menu gives you an idea of how much trouble Hq. battery went to to make the meal a better one than most. We went back to Belgium and got a printer to make up the menus, we dug up enough table cloths to cover all our wooden tables and the meal was excellent. It actually included everything you see on the Card. Keep it, darling; I’d like to see it after the war.
To top off everything, we got mail and I received 3 swell letters from you – 4, 6 and 7 November. I still have a good many blank spaces, but like you, sweetheart, I’m thankful for each and every one I receive, regardless of the order or the date.
We stayed around the dinner table for an hour and a half. There was more than enough turkey for everyone, for example – we had 150 pounds of turkey for 100 men.
And get this, dear, our Special Service chased high and low and managed to dig up a film for the evening – ”Shine On, Harvest Moon”. So you see – we had a pretty good Holiday, considering there’s a war going on!
I was sorry to read in one of your letters about Barbara Siegle having a history of Rheumatic Fever. That is a bad handicap, but not so much for the fact that she can’t get a job – as for the fact that she’ll have it for the rest of her life; and if it involves her heart, too, as it so often does – she’s going to have trouble when she gets to be about 40.
Your remarks about furnishing rooms interested me, darling. There are lots of ways to furnish various rooms, no doubt, but the fundamental thing is that they must be livable. That was one thing I didn’t like about most of the English homes I managed to see from the inside. One exception was that of the Reverend I got to know in Sherborne. The others were usually cold, dark and uncomfortable.
It’s approaching time for lunch, dear, so I’ll stop now. It was swell hearing from you again and reading that you love me more and more. I feel the same way, darling, my love for you does not rest – but continues to increase, and that’s a healthy sign. My love to the folks, sweetheart – and for now – so long.
These words from Francis E. Healer of the 709th Tank Battalion describing Thanksgiving of 1944, as written on a page called "Hotter than Hell in the Huertgen Forest," were found on "Scorpio's" website:
Very vivid, I remember the night of 23 November 1944, in the Huertgen Forest of Germany. Company D, 3rd Platoon, was engaged in Sector 1 through Sector 4.
We were up front all night on the 23rd, as a task force. It seemed that our Tank bounced four feet off the ground, under the heavy bombardment of the artillery fire.
Our Platoon Cmmander was Lieutenant Charles Ellis, an officer who did not want to get hurt, nor did he want any of his men hurt. I recall that I never had seen Lieutenant Ellis with a gun. He was a brave officer. After the night of the 23rd, we came back to gas and re-ammunition up for the day, November 24, 1944. It was while we geared up for another up-front that I made the statement that we were going back up front, and that some of us would not come back. I just had that premonition, and sure enough it happened.
A replacement Lieutenant got into our Tank, and we moved up front. When we got to the point where we had been, we relayed on the intercom that this is far enough, it was HOTTER THAN HELL ALL NIGHT.
The lieutenant said, "This is the jump off, keep driving." In less than thirty feet, we hit a minefield and off came both tracks. Yes, we were behind enemy lines and point blank to a Pill Box, less than sixty feet in front of us. WHAM, came the 88, and then thirteen Bazookas melted us. What a mess we were in. The lieutenant jumped out and hit a shoe mine, losing his foot at about the ankle. My Gunner was hit under the chin, with one of the Bazookas, KIA. I received numerous wounds to the left leg, by 88 fire. Three compound fractures and a dud, or AP Bazooka, took out the left shoulder. Sergeant Barrett did not get a scratch, but lost hearing in both ears. In the midst of HELL, we lasted about ten minutes. It was the longest ten minutes I have ever witnessed.
I, at the time, did not know who the lieutenant was but, in 1986, I met him at Louisville. His name was Lieutenant Truman Sylvest. We had a mission to do, and we tried to do what we were told to do. The situation became serious thereafter, when some of the men with me encountered heavy resistance, and above all the use of our own equipment against us, which had been captured or stolen.
HQs and the Generals
Greg's Thanksgiving at HQ as described in his letter was in sharp contrast to that of Francis Healer. Likewise, the Generals fared better.
The snapshots that follow were taken from Normandy to Victory: The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges & the First U.S. Army, maintained by his aides Major William C. Sylvan and Captain Francis G. Smith Jr.; edited by John T. Greenwood, copyright 2008 by the Association of the United States Army, pp.184 and 185.